What is it?
3D printing is a process where by a printer heats a reel of plastic ‘thread’ called a filament. The printer does its work by printing in horizontal layers. It starts by printing the very first fraction of a millimetre ‘slice’ onto the print bed. Once it’s done, the print bed drops downwards very slightly which allows the printer to add a second layer of plastic onto the object. After hundreds or even thousands of layers, the object is finished.
This is a very slow process. To give you an example, it takes almost 5 hours to print a pair of our VW roof strap spools. If the print fails for any reason, then we must discard the object and start the print again.
It is much faster to produce injection molded items. These may appear to be identical to the end user, but the process of injection molding is much different. Firstly, the object must be designed and fine-tuned. Then, a template or mold needs to be created for the object (which can cost upwards of £1000). Only at this point can production begin. The difference with 3D printing is that we can produce a single item and then change the design for the next item. This is why 3D printers are used for prototyping. The process is very slow, but it is also very adaptable.
Why do we do it?
Have a look around. Look on eBay, look on Amazon, look on Google. Can you find the ideal solution to solve every problem imaginable? No, you can’t. What you will find are objects that are almost the right thing. You may be lucky and find something that’s just right for the job, or you may find something that’s easy enough to modify to fit your purpose. But what about having something that’s designed specifically for your challenge? Well, the reason is that there is not usually enough of a demand for the solution. It is simply not worth the investment to produce an injection molded, mass-produced item that would sell in such a low quantity.
We’re passionate about creating really useful items that look like they are original parts of your campervan. You can’t buy these items elsewhere. If you could, then we wouldn’t have spent the hours and hours of research and development, followed by the slow 3D printing production process. This is why we do it – if you can’t buy it, then maybe we’ll make it. We’ll never sell in massive numbers, so this will likely always be a bespoke item service, but where else can anyone get these items?
Where is it done?
Our manufacturing is done on a printer on our desk, in the UK. It’s not something we’ve outsourced to China – it’s something very much more ‘real’ and cared for than that.
How is it done?
Firstly, we use an iPad Pro with the Apple pencil, and some expensive CAD software. So, that’s about £1000 outlay for the iPad and around £200 per year for the software. Then we need a printer at around £800 and some ABS plastic filament at around £25 per spool. We then spend a few days designing, printing, redesigning, printing, fitting, redesigning….. you get the picture.
Once we’re happy with a design, then we print a final one and usually test it out in our own campervan for a while. If it’s still a great idea at this stage, then we’ll offer the product to the public.
When is it done?
We generally carry a low volume of each item, but mainly we print to order. So, when an order comes in, we print another one to replace it.
Why does 3D printing seem so expensive compared to mass-produced items on Amazon, eBay and in the shops?
This is perhaps the most common question. If you compare a 3D printed item with a commonly available mass-produced item, then your will notice a large price difference. The reason comes down to the time required to produce low-volume items.
Have you ever noticed people selling their own 3D printed items on forums and social networks before? They often feel afraid to charge properly for the time that they have invested in their design, and the time it takes them to print an item. After all, if it takes a whole day to print an item that costs £10, what kind of business would that be? We have noticed these sellers coming and going over the years – they never last long because it’s simply not worth their while.
So, to be reliable and to ensure we’re here to produce more items in years to come, we have priced our items more sensibly to reflect the time investment in the design, and also the time investment in the printing process. The price may be higher but you’re getting a bespoke, low-volume item that’s made specifically for your van and you know that we’ll be here to support you and to develop our product line further in years to come.